Some people are very romantic about poverty. These are people who have not themselves experienced poverty. Some of them even hide their comfortable origins by aping the accents, tastes and manners of those who grew up very impoverished indeed--not just economically poverished, but socially and culturally. But those who were born and raised in poverty don't romanticize it. They want out.
People are also very romantic about imagination. These are often adults who encourage children to dream. There was, I recall, a cult of the imaginative child when I was a child, and so I felt that it was perfectly fine to dream my life away. Novels poked fun at the traditional Christian unease with fictitious literature, so I felt that it was perfectly fine to read storybooks almost constantly. We're not talking Wildflowers of Ontario here: we're talking about a constant diet of fiction with the newspaper and some stories about saints and world war aces thrown in. My worried parents ordered me outside into the fresh air, but as I swung on the swings I just invented more stories, and these were much more harmful ones, since they tended to be about me myself.
Everything on earth, apart from stories and cute boys, seemed fundamentally boring. Piano lessons--boring. Ballet lessons--boring. Ice hockey--boring. Girl Guides--not as boring, actually, although I am absolutely certain that I spent Girl Guide tramps through the woods daydreaming away. Daydreaming became a great comfortable fuzzy blanket in which I endured childhood and waited desperately to grow up.
Needless to say, I regret this now because childhood should be a period in which children grasp the fundamental realities of life. And some of those fundamental realities include what human beings are really like and how true friendship and even sincere courtship works. Not to know these things before high school graduation is a massive lacuna in a child's education.
I did not like the boys with whom I spent ten years of my life in elementary school and so greatly preferred the boys in books. These books were usually written by women, women who were now very old or had been dead for some time. The women, if born in England, reflected not just the prejudices of their times, but of their class, which I absorbed without realizing for a moment their implications for (A) today and (B) middle-class me.
I also assumed that it must be English boys who were the only ones worth knowing, or at very least boys who went (thank you, Enid Blyton) to fee-paying schools. Fortunately, an chance insult by a boy attending Upper Canada College put paid to that hypothesis. And, as a matter of fact, the sons of the rich (and their pals) often behave like out-and-out bastards. So much for the Famous Five, alas.
It is sad how even today wealth is so often conflated with goodness in fiction, when the opposite is so often the case in real life. Even little orphaned Harry Potter is a millionaire, with umpteen sacks of gold in the bank. Bridget Jones falls for a tremendously rich professional. So, conveniently, does the Shopoholic.
I am certain dozens of my readers think that Jane Austen's Mr Darcy is the Ideal Man. However, Mr Darcy's real-life counterpart would NEVER have spoken to one of my readers [or her great-great-great-grandmother] in a million years, unless to say "A cup of tea, please" or "Tell me, good woman, is this the road to Netherfield?" before handing her a tip. It would be quite amazing if Mr Darcy (Mr Bingley, Mr Ferrars, Colonel Brandon) did not--before his marriage---go to bed with the more attractive middle-class slappers who hit on him in clubs, and absolutely impossible that he might have married a middle-class girl, slapper or not. The equally fictitious (but credible) Mr Bennett was "a gentleman" which in today's terms means a multimillionaire.
This leads me to the unfortunate conclusion that Mr Darcy (if real) would have been more likely to marry Paris Hilton than you. Oh--don't laugh. Mr Darcy was nothing if not based on the utterly conventional "gentleman" of his time, and conventional "gentlemen" of our time don't get that exercised about female chastity. They're much more concerned about whether or not you can afford to go on holiday to the Caribbean with their friends. Really, unless you or your mother features regularly in the pages of Hello, you're much better off with a Nice Catholic or other hardworking Boy of Good Will.
Meanwhile, Mr Darcy despised his wife's mother, and as much as we might resist this gruesome fact, a fair number of us become our mothers in the end. I can too easily imagine a scene at Pemberley, 20 years on, when Elizabeth blurts out, "Oh Mr Darcy" in her mother's voice, and Darcy looks at her, not with amusement, but with a growing boredom and contempt.
And this intense literary discussion brings me to my major point, hinted at yesterday, that young women, instead of daydreaming about men both fictitious and real, should force themselves to be utterly rooted in reality. And I do mean reality, not pessimism. The most useful line I learned in five years of studying the philosophy of a Jesuit named Bernard Lonergan was, "I don't have enough data to make a judgement."
When you are in public, speaking to people, I recommend paying strict attention to what they look like, what they say, what gestures they make, who they talk to, and how they leave. Only then can you get at all a fair picture of what they might be like. I think it also very important to pay strict attention to your inner feelings of attraction and revulsion. Many a woman has chosen to ignore her spontaneous reactions of revulsion towards an attractive man because he is just so good-looking or because no other single man has paid her so much attention in six months (or ever). I was taught the scientific method when I was 12; I now realize it works not just for chemistry class but for people, too.
I've written before about imaginary boyfriends, and given the fatal tendency to daydream, I think it worth repeating that (A) you are not in a relationship with a man unless you have actually met him, and (B) you are in relationships with all kinds of people all the time. It drives me crazy how "relationship" is used to denote solely those relationships based on erotic desires. Every time someone tells me that she has never been in "a relationship", I remind her that she has been in at least one relationships ever since her mother learned she existed. Women have simply got to stop privileging non-existent erotic "relationships" over the fruitful real-life relationships we already have. That way we won't be birds for the plucking by silver-tongued smoothies.
A strict attention to the data might also help us to see or hear a man's "No" either when or before he actually says it. Many of the letters I receive are about a man who has already said "No."
Imagination is, in itself, a good thing. It entertains writers as they write and readers as they read. However, too much of it is a bad thing, and when it comes to navigating the difficult shoals of life, it absolutely must take a back seat to reason.